Every parent knows the saying “sleeping like a baby” is a lie, babies don’t sleep! From the moment you bring home your new bundle of joy, what that really means is that you give up all rights to getting a good night’s sleep. That’s right, you will never sleep again!
In the beginning the lack of sleep is due to the basic needs of your child. This may come as a shock, but they can’t do anything themselves (Ugh, freeloaders!) and they depend on you to do everything, so you are in charge of the feeding and burping and changing and cleaning and dressing. Your day turns into a loop of those activities, and earlier when I said you were in charge, I was being generous because you’re not in charge, you are at their beck and call, which usually happens every couple of hours. Yup! TWO!
The other thing that starts immediately is the change in your sleep habits. You are forever a transformed sleeper and from this moment on you are on “high alert.” This is the innate need you have to protect your child and keep them safe, and high alert doesn’t stop even when you are in a state of REM. There is a fear that overwhelms you, and even when your baby is finally asleep, for those couple glorious hours, you are still peeking in on them, watching their little chest making sure they are rising in a rhythmic pattern you can recognize. And when you are satisfied that everything will be okay, you lay in bed trying to listen for the slightest sigh or sign of discomfort so you can run in and attend to this little person you just created. Eventually you will get to a point where you are so exhausted, it takes your precious little thing three or four good screams before you are jolted out of a dead sleep.
Now for the good news, things do get better. After the initial shock of being responsible for another person wanes, you do start to sleep a little more, but unfortunately parents never get away from being on high alert. In addition, babies get bigger and no longer have to be changed and fed every few hours. Yay! Things will even out, and after a year or so, sleep comes.
Eventually in about six years you become spoiled and your child’s need for sleep extends to around 10 hours, there is no more crying in the middle of the night (yes, I mean from your spouse), and that’s when it hits you like a ton of bricks! The fear no longer belongs to you but your child. “Mommy, I’m scared” is accompanied by a tap on the forehead. And soon your cute kid has turned into the creepy kid, standing in the dark staring at you in the middle of the night.
At first you tuck you child back in bed and try to get back to sleep; this is repeated throughout the night. Then this is repeated for a few nights and then a few weeks. Eventually you give up and in desperation you ask, “You want to just sleep with me?” That is the beginning of the end. And the lack of sleeping stage you thought you had grown out of is back in full force!
Why is this happening!?! AGAIN.
Congratulations, your baby is growing up. They are experiencing more, seeing more and understanding more as their minds are absorbing all of that information, and their imaginations are running rampant and all that together equals fear and nightmares.
Our first attempt at preventive measures, much to my son’s dismay, was in the form of removing the constant flow of Minecraft videos and the use of headphones. This helped, but just for one night. The bonus was that in the morning my six year-old did recognize the benefit of not having voices pushed directly into his head via headsets and acknowledged that he was watching too many videos.
Then I got all “Maria Von Trapp” on him and before bed we talked about happy things and positive experiences and just a few of our favorite things. That also seemed to temporarily aid in the sleepless nights. Temporarily! The morning following our “Sound Of Music” moment he said, “That kind of worked and kind of didn’t. It didn’t help me sleep, but it gave me the confidence to stay in bed.” YES!
We have now included the addition of aromatherapy. The last thing I do before I leave him to his night of personal terror is spritz lavender around his bed. He likes this a lot!
This is where we are, I have not slept for weeks and am going crazy! And when I say crazy I just mean I’m exhausted. And to my girlfriend who has three boys and told me this is going to last until he is about eight, I don’t like you anymore.
“I’m going to tell you a fairy tale, okay?” Azul said cuddling up to me.
“Oh, I love fairy tales, please do!” I responded with bated breath, I was excited that my six year-old wanted to tell his OWN story. All I was thinking while patting myself on the back was, All that reading has really paid off. And, I am the best mom ever!
He started, “Once upon a time there was a baby and he loved teddy bears. So one day the baby pooped out a teddy bear and he ate him, poop and all because he loved him.” Followed by laughter and his hand immediately over his mouth in a weak attempt to pretend he didn’t have this all planned out. My eyes were wide and eyebrows raised.
“That’s gross!” I immediately responded. Ugh! Poop! Why does it always lead to poop? Over the years I have come to expect this, but I will never fully accept it, boys love poop.
Although short, the story did have many typical aspects of fairy tales: babies, animals, love. And there was some action, pooping and eating.
The laughter continued and he finally said, “I love to gross you out! It’s funny.” The embrace was cut short and he went about his business still laughing.
Boys…as long as it ends in poop it is funny!?
Now that the party, presents and celebratory eating out is over, reality is setting in — I am the mother of a six year-old. Whaaat?!
Getting used to saying I was someone’s mom in the first place was surreal to me. I was a first time mom at thirty-six and up to that point I was just “me.” For years there was no other title I held which connected me to anyone else other than myself.
I am convinced the reason we keep track of babies ages in months is so parents can slowly get used to being a parent, month by month. Once I was familiar with responding to being “Azul’s mom,” it was easy, I was his and he was mine, and like most parents, I wore my title with pride. I had no problem admitting I was a mom, not to mention I had an infant on my teat most of the day, so that kind of gave it away.
The transition from being a parent of an infant to toddler is an easy one, saying “my one year-old” is just as easy as saying “my two year-old” or “my three year-old.” Then there is four. This is the point where you realize that your baby is a little person and a personality starts to show (or rears its ugly head). Personality warps into budding independence and all of a sudden you have a “five year-old.” Looking back, this all seems to happen in the blink of an eye, but the fact remains, your connection to your child is still there, they are still just little guys who need you and you need them.
Your parenting grows with your child and both of you are still experiencing something new together. When you are five years into parenting, that’s exactly what it is, five years, a parent of a five year-old, and you think, “not bad, I’ve done this for five years,” with some sense of accomplishment. I’m not sure if it is the number or age or both, but at six something changes. Your baby is going to Kindergarten and is SIX! And the real kicker, not only is your child now six years old, you are six years older too. Ugh!
Azul is six and in school all day and I am forty-two! What happened? Is this what a mid-life or mid-parenting crisis feels like? Where did the time go?
I am sure there are more mid-parenting (although “mid” is deceiving) crises to come, but right now all I can do is let it sink in…I am the mother of a six year-old.